A client involved in writing a memoir said to me the other day that he didn’t want to take my time away from the real authors, and I said, ‘You are a real author. You’ve written a book, haven’t you?’
He thought that because he was a hobby author, just writing a memoir, not a career author that he wasn’t a ‘real author’, and that set me thinking.
We’re all authors
We’re all authors actually. We are constantly writing the story of our lives, not necessarily with a pen, a pencil or a computer, but with every decision we make. We are the authors of our lives. We create our own story.
Of course, we don’t have control over all the events in our lives. I certainly didn’t want thyroid cancer or any other kind of cancer. I never signed up to have epilepsy either, but it was my decision to have an operation to remove my thyroid, and it is my decision to take tablets to stop me having seizures. I write my own story with every decision.
And in dealing with other people, it’s up to me whether or not I approach difficult people with hatred or compassion in my heart, and the outcome of an interaction where I’m beaming hate for someone is very different to one where I’m beaming love at them. In that way, I do have a measure of control over the direction of events.
Every decision I make and act upon sets off a series of related events, like ripples from a stone thrown into a pool, and these become the events that mkae up my life.
Would your story make a book?
Our lives, when we look back on them are a story, and if we’ve had a long life, then we likely have many smaller stories within the whole. If you’ve led an interesting life, then your story will make an interesting book. People enjoy reading about anything out of the ordinary. Most people, however, have fairly ordinary lives, but even so, where there is a life, there is a story. No matter who you are, you do have a story to tell, and the hardest lives make the best stories. Why? Because it’s how people overcome their difficulties and how they respond to challenges that make a story interesting and inspiring.
If you’ve had an easy, pleasant life, then you’ll have to look carefully to find the areas where you felt challenged, and there may not be much there that would be of interest to anyone outside your family, but that doesn’t mean that your story doesn’t have value for your family history or as a historical document. Just the fact that you’ve lived all those decades and through all those changes makes it a story worth writing if you can detail all the changes from walking to school, to riding a horse to get around, to having three cars at your disposals.
And once you start thinking back, you may find that there are stories there, little stories within the overall story of your life that are perhaps humorous, scary, or otherwise of interest. A life is made up of lots of little challenges after all. If you find a few interesting events or situations you’ve been in, consider writing a memoir, even if its short, why not? Once you get started, you never know what you might remember.
What makes an ordinary life interesting is the mind of the person living it, so how you write your story makes a huge difference.
The challenge of writing a Memoir
Writing a memoir requires you to go back to the time and place in your mind and to write as if you were in that place now. If you’ve had a painful life, perhaps suffered abuse, an accident, fought in a war, lost a child or any other myriad possibilities for suffering, it will take courage to put yourself back into those situations, but if you can do that, you could have a great story to tell.
But even if your life hasn’t been anything out of the ordinary, if you’ve gained any wisdom, you’ll be able to look back at your life and evaluate it from your present perspective, and an interesting perspective on your life, can give an ordinary life a very interesting flavour. What do you regret? What do feel you did well? What were your biggest challenges? Your greatest triumphs? If you let your personal philosophy on life shine through your writing, then you’ve added another layer of interest to what might be fairly ordinary events—especially if your perspective is an unusual one.
A personal philosophy or an overall aim for a life—like wanting to help people or be involved in creative pursuits—can link a series of stories or anecdotes into a cohesive whole. The book then becomes about how you fulfilled your aim, or perhaps didn’t fulfil it. And if you didn’t, then what happened? Did you change direction?
The most important thing in a memoir, the thing that will turn the most ordinary of stories into a book worth reading is the author’s voice. A strong voice is always interesting, and a strong voice is simply you writing exactly as you speak. When writing a memoir, you need to show the reader the world as you see it, through your eyes and your beliefs and concepts. So if you’ve never written a book before and you’re thinking of writing a memoir, then don’t try to write well in terms of copying some idea you might have of what is great prose, don’t try to write like some famous writer, try only to write ‘you’, bad grammar, foul language and all. It can always be toned down later. And a good editor can make it readable for others without ever compromising your voice.
Stop thinking and start writing
So if you’ve been thinking of writing a memoir, stop thinking and start writing. Jot down the scenes that are most vivid in your mind. Write them as if you’re back there experiencing them as they happened. Paint a picture for the reader so they can see all the interesting details of that era—for example if it’s the hippie era, then you’d need to describe the long hair and beards on the men, the long dresses and unshaved underarms of the women, the psychedelic paintings on the VW beetle and so on.
And when you’re done, send it to me for an appraisal.
Have a great holiday season!
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